08-01-2018
Should we commit suicide?’ 3,000 Indian workers stuck in Kuwait without food, money

newsimageEmployees of Kharafi National, a Kuwaiti infrastructure company, have tried everything – from strikes to approaching the Indian embassy – but to no avail. “There’s nothing to eat at home. I haven’t owned a soap in seven months.” “Only thing we are asking now is for them to send us back home. They aren’t doing that either.” “I’m going to commit suicide. That’s how bad our condition is.” “I have shared our plight on social media to everyone. If we go to the [Indian] embassy… They too have failed to help us. I don’t know what else to say, I just feel like crying.” These are the words of four of the thousands of Indian workers, who are stranded in Kuwait. Over 7,000 employees – former and present – of Kharafi National, an infrastructure company, have been struggling without money, accommodation and even food for about a year now. Of the 7,000 workers from different nationalities, a little over 3,000 belong to various Indian states. Most of them have not been paid their salaries for up to 10 months, and more than half of them have visas that expired months ago. This means that they cannot even go back home without paying a hefty fine, which they have no means to pay. Workers have tried everything over the last year and a half – strikes, speaking to the authorities, approaching the Indian embassy – but to no avail. Many of those who resigned months ago are still staying in labour camps, with four in a single room, hoping every day that they would get their settlement from the company and would be able to go home. “I have no means to feed my wife and children. I haven’t sent any money home in one year,” rues Murugan, a worker from Tamil Nadu, in a video sent to TNM by a local social worker, “Few of us have visas. We have to pay the fines for expired visas but they are not giving us our settlement. I have to pay Rs 80,000 to go back to India. How should I pay that much money?” Months of trouble with no respite Sajil Kumar was one of the fortunate ones. A native of Belagavi, Karnataka, Sajil resigned from Kharafi National in January 2017 after working for a year and three months as an electrical design engineer. He recounts that the trouble began in late 2015. The company was paying salaries at that time, but at a gap of two months on average. But in mid-2016, it became more sporadic and in some cases, there was no payment for months. As a result, a number of people had begun resigning by April 2017. The people who quit had to serve a three-month notice period. However, many ended up staying back for longer in the hopes that the company would clear their dues. After the workers increased the pressure on the company, Kharafi National said that they would make batches of 10 and pay the settlement. But by December 2017, even the settlements become difficult to come by. According to Sajil, these problems started because of some politics between the higher management. “I stayed for three months after serving my notice period, hoping that they would pay the salary they owed me. But in August last year, I came back home. They still owe me eight months’ wages,” the 32-year-old tells TNM. Like him, many exited the Gulf country after a power of attorney document which designated an acquaintance in Kuwait to collect the settlement, if it came, on their behalf. No money, no food, and nowhere to turn to A number of workers have been waiting outside the Kharafi National head office for several days now. The video below shows employees squatting on nothing but cardboard sheets in the corridor. They have all but a backpack, and some, a water bottle. But no one seems to be interested in their plight. “The problem is the same. There has been no solution till now. People are sitting here thirsty, hungry, and cold […] It has been 10 months since we resigned […] The company is giving us neither food, nor sending us home,” says the man who is recording the video, also a worker. The camera then focuses on Murugan. “We have been sitting in front of Kharafi head office and protesting for the past 7 days. Nobody even cares to respond. If we ask the finance manager, he keeps delaying it by a week, every week. I have resigned and have been sitting here for the past 9 months,” he says. Another video from May 2017 has a man from Tamil Nadu talking about his plight. “It’s been three months since I resigned and I hav